Spurs vs. Grizzlies Give and Go Preview

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As the fallout from the Spurs’ $250,000 fine from the league happens, the Spurs look to justify Pop’s move to rest the team on Saturday night when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies. The best thing that could happen for the Spurs tonight is to look totally fresh and energized, and blow out the Grizzlies, who are on the second night of a back-to-back. Based on past encounters, that’s unlikely to happen, but that’s the best case scenario.

To preview the game, we invited Lee Eric Smith of TrueHoop Network Grizzlies site 3 Shades of Blue to chat about tonight’s game.

Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: So right now the Grizzlies are a lot of people’s top team in the NBA. What’s different about them as compared to the last two seasons, if anything?

Lee Eric Smith, 3 Shades of Blue: I’d have to say it boils down to two things: health and bench. Over the last two seasons, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay were out for extended periods, sparking talk that those guys can’t play together. But those of us who actually watch the team knew that was nonsense . . . and now the league does too. And the bench is deep and solid, unlike last year, when there was a drop off offensively. The big question now is can they keep it up?

AM: You mentioned the team’s health. Is that a concern? And I mean than more than any other team is concerned with health. Better said, are the Grizzlies an injury-prone team, perhaps in relation to their physical style of play?

LES: I wouldn’t say it’s a concern more than any other team or season. Both of those injuries were kind of freak occurrences. In fact, I’d say that health isless of a concern, because there is quality depth — as we saw last season, Mo Speights can do decent in Zach’s role, etc. But obviously, Coach Pop was concerned about health in general, particularly coming up against this squad. As a Grizz fan, I take that as a compliment. Do you think it’s a wise move? And how big a difference will it make?

AM: It’s a smart move when you think about tie-breakers and whatnot. The Spurs traded a toss-up game (Miami) for a almost-guaranteed win in Orlando and a better shot against the Grizzlies on Saturday night. Seemed like the right call as far as resting to me. A win over Memphis is much more important for the Spurs than a win over Miami.

Who has been the guy this season that the Spurs defense needs to key on the most?

LES: That’s kind of tough, because if you double off of any of these guys, they can make you pay. But I’ll say our top two playmakers: Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. If LeBron James is inventing the “point power forward” position, then Gasol is a “point center.” What about the Spurs? Who will be the X-Factor?

AM: Well, we don’t know for sure if Kawhi Leonard will play. A couple of days ago he was planning on playing, so that’s a pretty big.

Otherwise, we’ll have to see what kind of Manu Ginobili we get Saturday night. He’s starting to pick it up and the Spurs really thrive when he’s doing Manu Ginobili-like things.

LES: I LOVE that guy. I HATE that guy!

AM: A common response. It’s hard to hate Kawhi Leonard. Especially when he can be so adorable.

LES: I will say this: What’s encouraging for the Grizzlies, even against elite teams, is that they will put a vise lock on a lead. If the Bears get a 12-15 point lead on you guys, they are not likely to give it up.

AM: That’s like the opposite of the Spurs. For the longest time, the pattern was for the Spurs to build a big first half lead, lose it in the third quarter and make just enough plays in the fourth quarter to win by five or six.

Although this season the Spurs have been losing a lot of leads in the second quarter, in part because of some inconsistency of the bench.

LES: If that pattern of losing a lead holds true tomorrow night, you guys are in trouble.

AM: One of the things that gave the Spurs so much trouble in the playoff series I’m unable to erase from my brain is physical defense on the wings. Tony Allen is still around, but is anyone else capable of out-muscling the Spurs on the wings?

LES: Tony is certainly pesky, although he missed Friday night’s game against Detroit with a groin injury. Don’t know if he’s playing tonight or not. But across the board, the Grizzlies play a pesky, disruptive defense. Don’t sleep on Conley’s quick hands, or Quincy Pondexter, who is like a Tony Allen-lite.

AM: What about 3-point shooting? One of the knocks on the Grizzlies coming into the season was their lack of outside threat, has Wayne Ellington changed that?

LES: He’ll get the credit for it, but it’s been more of a team thing. I’d say Conley is the main reason, along with Jerryd Bayless. But the think about the Grizz is that if they were just around average in attempts and makes, it would be (and has been) huge for this team.

AM: Bayless always seems to have unnecessarily good games against the Spurs. Pretty sure his career high is still one of the times he went crazy on San Antonio.

LES: Let me ask about Duncan-Splitter vs. Gasol-Randolph? What do you think?

AM: I’m a huge fan of Marc Gasol, and Z-Bo is one of those guys who shouldn’t be near as effective as he is. Tim Duncan is better than both, especially this season, but that combo is greater than any the Spurs can throw out. Memphis has one of the deepest, most talented big men rotations outside of Salt Lake City. Splitter is playing well right now, but his run of good form will be coming up against it’s stiffest challenge yet on tonight.

LES: I have to say, I’m kinda pissed that the Spurs got fined for resting those guys. Though one could argue that he could have accomplished the same covertly, by starting those guys, then resting them much of the game. What do you make of the penalty?

AM: $250k isn’t a huge deal, although it isn’t cheap either, but it seems a little excessive when you find out it’s the fifth largest fine ever doled out by the NBA. Pop could’ve been a little more discreet about doing what he did, but he didn’t exactly try to slip one by anyone, either. He just told those four guys to get on a flight back to San Antonio.

Some would argue that they should’ve just stayed with the team and not dressed or some variation of that. But as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News pointed out on Twitter yesterday, they got home about noon or so and slept in their own beds that night, after a nine-day road trip, instead of getting home at something like four in the morning.

And I’m sure Tim Duncan was able to unlock three or four new achievements in Call of Duty that afternoon instead of hanging around in Miami.

LES: I somehow imagine that if Pop thinks its best, he’ll probably do it again . . .

AM: Absolutely. He’ll just find some way to do it that fits more into what the NBA would like to see, but I think he’ll half-ass that part just to ruffle some feathers. For a strict military guy, Pop sure likes to push the boundaries.

LES: What’s your prediction for Spurs-Grizz?

AM: Spurs in a close one, 97-93. Before you go, can I get one random prediction from you? Nothing to do with the final score.

LES: Here’s a random prediction: Grizzlies will force more turnovers and will own the offensive glass . . . leading to a solid win, 101-94.

  • andy

    i like bill barnwell’s tweet:

    “Per David Stern’s fine structure, benching your stars is 2.5 times worse than calling someone a homophobic epithet on national TV.”

    classy stern, classy. way to uphold morality.

  • Stefan

    Stern is biased. For him the fans in Miami are apparently more worth than fans in San Antonio or elsewhere.

    For the Spurs the game at home against Memphis is much more important than the game in Miami. The Spurs need their stars for this top game. So it is only reasonable to spare their stars for this game. Why should Popovich give the fans in Miami an advantage at the expense of his own fans in San Antonio? Each coach is bound to his own team and his fans at home, not to fans elsewhere.

    Stern should retire because he is biased.

  • Spencer_W

    That was a pretty damn close prediction on the final score there…

  • Bruno

    I gotta say the refs didn’t call at least 8-10 grizziles fouls in the 3rd and 4th, but they payed back in the overtime…

  • Andrew G

    “I will say this: What’s encouraging for the Grizzlies, even against elite teams, is that they will put a vise lock on a lead. If the Bears get a 12-15 point lead on you guys, they are not likely to give it up.” Booya.